Genuine well being for ourselves and the planet

Posts tagged ‘United Nations’

How Happy Are We? Let’s See What the Data Says

IMG_2909How do you think things are going these days? How happy do you suppose the United States is, as a whole? Of course, the corona virus has a lot of us on edge, but what’s the bigger picture? How about Denmark? Korea? Turkey? Mexico?

You probably have a pretty good idea of how well things are going in your own country – or at least you think you do. Indeed, probably much of what you believe about the well-being in your corner of the world is likely based on solid but limited evidence, in the same way that you can step outside and know whether or not it’s raining. But what we can’t know, just by standing in the rain, is how long it will last. Is a cold front arriving? Or is warm air sweeping in from the south? Etc. For context, whether it’s weather or national well-being, we need much more information. Reliable information, that is.

Fortunately, on the well-being front, there is a great source of data: the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which released its latest report, “How’s Life? 2020 Measuring Well-being” on March 9th.

This is the fifth such report from the OECD. The data is based on over 80 indicators, from 41 countries, and it is considered within an ongoing context to determine whether life is getting better or worse. The OECD’s goal is to help “shape policies that foster prosperity, equality, opportunity and well-being for all” – based on the evidence. Afterall, shouldn’t public policy respond to something more substantial than stepping outside and feeling the raindrops? For that matter, shouldn’t major decisions in our own lives be more evidence-based?

That has been the goal of Gross National Happiness USA (GNHUSA) since we began in 2009: measure what matters, using a broad array of holistic indicators to cover all aspects of a meaningful life – and then enact policies based on what the measurements tell us is needed. GNHUSA is looking at data from the Happiness Walk to see how, if at all, we should change the domains and indicators originally created in Bhutan and adapted slightly in the U.S. You can see these indicators, and add your own voice to the data, at the Happy Counts index sponsored by the Happiness Alliance, a Seattle-based organization.

The OECD has moved in this direction also, with its own “well-being framework covering 11 dimensions of well-being: income and wealth; work and job quality; housing; health; knowledge and skills; environment quality; subjective well-being; safety; work-life balance; social connections; and civic engagement. The framework also considers inequalities across all dimensions of well-being, as well as the resources and risk factors that shape future well-being,” according to their website.

So what are some of the results of the OECD 2020 report? It’s a mixed bag. Household income, employment, and life expectancy are all up. Murder rates are down. But “housing affordability, voter turnout and income inequality have stagnated,” and more than “1 in 3 OECD households are financially insecure.”

Most worrisome to me, though, is this finding: “advances in current well-being have not always been matched by improvements in the resources that sustain well-being over time, with warning signs emerging across natural, human, economic and social capital.” And this one: “How’s Life? also points to emerging risks across natural, economic and social systems that can threaten future well-being. The consumption of the average OECD resident produced fewer carbon emissions than in 2010, but used more of the Earth’s materials – the total OECD material footprint increased by 1.2 tonnes per capita to 25. In 2018 only 10.5% of the OECD’s energy mix comes from renewable sources, and in almost half of OECD countries thousands of species are at risk of extinction.”

Those are terrible numbers. But the data makes it clear, we have much more work to do for the long-term, sustainable well-being for all people, animals, and the planet. Anybody who thinks, maybe we’re doing okay on the environmental front, can instead look at the numbers and consider ways of doing much, much better.

BTW, the OECD data is not just in the aggregate. You can click on individual countries, like the United States, for example, to get detailed information broken down for each of the countries in the report. The report will note how a given country is doing in terms of such indicators as lack of social support, overall negative affect, and the gender gap in feeling safe. You can see not only how the country you are interested in ranks compared to other OECD countries, but you can also learn whether there is consistent improvement or consistent deterioration.

Truly, this report is a veritable gold mine of data! More data than you can shake a stick at! If you want to really know how well we’re all doing – dive right in.

But don’t take too long, because another report is due out soon. The World Happiness Report, an annual publication of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, gets a lot of attention when it comes out on March 20th each year because it ranks how happy each country is. The reigning champion is Finland. I suspect that, when the 2020 report comes out, it will show that the U.S. trend down the happiness list is continuing. But who knows? No need for guesswork. The data will tell the story.

Attacked for Happiness? Seriously?

Every other Sunday, services at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier include an opportunity for individuals to come forward and light candles of joy and/or concern.  I am usually shy about speaking in front of the congregation, but on the first Sunday of 2012, I was moved to  light a candle of concern for what I suspected would be a tumultuous year ahead.  I spoke of a desire to face such turmoil with a loving heart.

Spreading the happiness message at the 2010 Jon Stewart rally in D.C.

Be careful what you ask for!  I have in fact been given the opportunity to face turmoil with love: last week, much to my great surprise, my Happiness Paradigm was included as an object of derision  in an online tirade against “the happiness crusade.”

The article — “Happiness is a Global Tax” — is on the Accuracy in Media website.  When I first read it, I felt a cold sense of dread reading my own words (taken from the Online Store page of this blog) being somehow used as a weapon against me and my colleagues coast-to-coast working to advance the gross national happiness concept.

A few days later, I could laugh at the author’s connection between my happiness artwork and discussions held at the United Nations summit on “Happiness and Wellbeing: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” in early April.  Though I unfortunately had nothing to do with the U.N. meeting (I’m still on grandmother leave!), the Accuracy in Media author wrote: “And so, from tiny recycled gratitude journals do mighty international tax plans grow. …”

Seriously? Seriously!  Now that is funny.

But back to that love thing … When I had more time to reflect on the article, I knew I wanted to react with love and compassion.  I know nothing about the author, but it isn’t hard to feel compassion for her.  After all, what are the wounds and struggles that would cause someone to approach happiness with such fear?  I’ll likely never know, and even asking the question seems a tad presumptuous — but it does allow me to think of her with love, and that makes me happier than hanging on to anger, hate, or fear.

For some reason, this incident made me recall my lack of compassion during another era when I acted against a dominant paradigm.  I was in the ninth grade, a normal 14 year-old girl (read, “boy crazy”), except for my home life.   My family were liberal Democrats, and fairly open-minded on issues like race.  So when I got a romantic phone call from a black football player, I was simply thrilled (A boy!!  Calling me!!).  Race didn’t matter at all.

Little did I know that our relationship would lead to public anger and approbation in my very conservative, overwhelmingly white school because the reigning paradigm did not condone inter-racial dating.  The worst disapproval came from two of my closest friends, Debbie and Cindy, each of whom told me that her parents forbid her to have anything more to do with me.

And for that, Debbie and Cindy suffered.  We were in the same section together — that is, we shared all our classes.  For a variety of reasons, the section coalesced around me.  Debbie and Cindy became the outcasts.  I don’t remember wanting to hurt either of them, but I did want and need the support of the rest of my classmates and friends.  I’m sure I gave little thought to their pain.

Today, I think of the 14 year-old Debbie and Cindy with compassion.  And I hope to hold my more mature self to a much higher standard of love and compassion than my adolescent self was capable of.

The Accuracy in Media article also brought to mind a video I watch frequently after meditating: a beautiful and moving rendering of the St Francis of Assisi prayer by  Sarah MacLachlan.    In particular, the request in this song to “seek not so much to be understood as to understand” resonates today.

However, compassion and understanding for happiness naysayers does not mean less advocacy for the cause of shifting our individual and collective aspirations toward well being rather than materialism.  Indeed,  I was tickled when my husband emailed me this message,  “Congratulations!  You made it to stage two!”  Attached was the following quote:

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”Arthur Schopenhauer

Indeed, I hope the happiness paradigm will someday be accepted as self-evident.  Until then … well, here’s to understanding, love, and compassion!